An appreciation by Merrie Cave
Roger Scruton was the first editor of this magazine, started by the 6th Marquess of Salisbury and Diana Spearman. It sprang from the Salisbury Group, a dining club which thought there was too much emphasis on free market economics rather than culture and education in Mrs Thatcher’s new government. The Group had published pamphlets but decided to start a magazine which from the outset attracted the attentions of the Left.
In 1984, Roger published an article by Ray Honeyford, the Bradford Headmaster who argued that multi-cultural education harmed immigrant children. ‘All hell broke loose’, Scruton recalled as any questioning of the Left-Liberal orthodoxy was hence forward deemed racist.
However, while Roger became a convenient hate figure for the Left, the Review doubled its circulation. Other martyrs followed, including a teacher who lost his job for writing an article called ‘Anti-Racism as Witchcraft’ and forced to became a taxi driver before moving to Saudi-Arabia to teach.
Roger was a Renaissance man whose wide interests were reflected in his prodigious literary output – over 40 books. Unlike many other academics Roger wrote in clear English and was able to explain complicated ideas simply. His subjects ranged from academic philosophy and politics to Architecture, Animal Rights, the case for Environmental conservatism and Music. He was a good pianist and wrote two operas, and even a novel based on his experiences in Czechoslovakia and a thriller on sex-trafficking in Yorkshire.
‘A prophet is not without honour save in his own country’. For me, Roger’s finest achievement was his work in Central Europe during the last gasps of those communist ‘negations of God erected into systems of government’. He received three medals one from the Czech Republic and, last year, an Order of Merit from both Poland and Hungary.
He first visited Prague in 1979 to give a secret lecture with the philosopher Julius Tomin, before being arrested by the secret police and thrown out of the country. Then with other academics mainly from Oxford, Roger worked with the Jan Hus (13th century reformer and martyr) Educational Trust, which provided books and other samizdat material to underground universities. Similar associations were set up in Poland, Hungary and Romania combining underground seminars on a variety of subjects..
He remarked, ‘I felt an immediate affinity (with the dissidents) for nothing was of such importance for them as the survival of their national culture’.
Many of the dissidents had been distinguished intellectuals but were now stokers or other manual labourers. After dodging the secret police on subsequent visits, he was finally banned from the country in 1985 but communicated with his Czech colleagues through letters, parcels and computer disks taken in by messenger. During the eighties many issues of the Salisbury Review contained ’Letters from Central Europe’ signed by Anon – Roger’s friends.
Just before Christmas 1989 I started working for the Salisbury Review and remember Roger told a student courier to, ‘go back to the hotel if he thought he was being followed;’ We were also told to pray for Jan Carnogursky, a prominent Slovakian dissident who had been arrested. The downfall of the evil empire happened very quickly and afterwards, thanks to Roger, I was able to meet many of many of his friends and associates, particularly young students who were taking courses in London, for Eastern Europe’s switch to capitalism meant having to train people in insurance and accountancy. As you can imagine our guests were extremely surprised to learn that we too were dissidents in our own country.
When, after eighteen years, Roger stopped being Editor, he recalled in a Spectator article the sacrifices he had made for going against the grain: the constant harassment, death threats and unpleasantness from academic colleagues. And of course, in normal times, an Oxbridge chair would have surely been his. But he concluded it was worth it.
One can only hope that the witch hunts happening here, particularly in the Universities, do not lead to the disappearance of our national culture and freedom. We owe it to Roger’s memory to resist these attacks.